This was my first international flight and (except for Canada and Nogales, Mexico) my first trip outside the US. I had a pretty good idea what to expect from talking to people that had been there. I packed extra food for those days we didn’t get to eat until 2 or 3 (although it turns out I didn’t need it), all sorts of remedies, books, etc. I will say that we were really very well taken care of.
Jas and I travelled together, which was quite nice, especially when we were the only English speakers around. We started our first day on a bus…we thought we were heading to a horse exhibition, but we weren’t quite sure. There was also a bus heading off to look at gaslines or something. We got on the correct one though and were dropped at Exhibition Palace. We had no idea what to do or where to go, so we winged it. I’m pretty sure we got exhibitor’s badges and we wandered all over the hall while vendors were setting up. There were lovely paintings, tack, exercise equipment, beautiful rugs and many other things.
Jas and I in front of the trick riders on the first day.
We did get to see the trick riders perform, along with their famous dancing Teke.
Every year he can stay on his hind legs longer and longer. We saw him several times.
We had our first lunch that day at the hall. Every lunch and dinner after this was very similar, with lots of food and plenty of fresh vegtables. Every table we sat at had fizzy orange soda and cola drinks that a young server would rush up and fill your glass with.
And it was gorgeous to look at too!
We started meeting some of the other attendees; it was great to finally meet many people that I had only talked to on the internet. There were also quite a few non-Teke folks along, some were artisans, some were related to connected people, some were giving speeches. It was great fun to network like crazy.
Naomi and Michelle (who were a blast!) sitting with Jenny at lunch one day.
Friday, our second day, there was the endurance race. We were bussed out to the start of it and left. We watched the horses leave and then…nothing. We were left in the stands so we went exploring. We visited the stables across the way (and were NOT allowed in the barns), took photos of youngsters, wandered around looking for a bathroom (they had potty busses, but I wasn’t that desperate) and then I went down and watched the dancing. Almost every place we went had some sort of music and dancing, all in beautiful Turkmen costumes. Several of our group danced here. I wasn’t quite so brave though and it was already getting hot.
Singing and dancing in between the loops at the endurance ride. Several of our party joined in.
The riders (maybe half that started) came in for the vet check. It was very different than what you would see in the US, I think most horses wouldn’t have passed our vet checks. My favorite horse was the lone mare competing. I think she did finish.
‘My’ mare heading out on the second loop.
Before the start of the ride. The white yurts were (we think) for the real VIPs – we were put in stands and left to our own devices.
The mare at the vet check in the middle of the ride. Their idea of a vet check was VERY interesting.
After the endurance race, we were bussed back to the Exhibition Palace and given lunch. Then it was speech time. Jas and I snuck out and walked back to the hotel, admiring the amazingly clean streets and blinding white buildings.
Some of the lovely onion domes on buildings in downtown Ashgabat. All the cars we saw were very clean also – we heard that tickets were given out for dirty cars. Glad they don’t do that here!
I had to take a photo of the Miras, as I bred a colt that I named Miras. (from my Chaihana dictionary, it means “inheritance”). There was also a building called ‘Arzuw’ and I have a gelding named that (wishes and dreams). I thought I had taken a photo of that too…but I can’t find it.
Saturday was out to the Akhalteke Equestrian Complex, where we were to listen to speeches and be part of a ribbon cutting ceremony. We had to get up at 3:30 am to make the 5 am bus. Once we got there,we all wandered off to look at horses – most definitely not the same level of care we do here! And then we paid for that by standing in the hot sun in front of TV cameras while many speeches were given. At least one young Turkmen lady was overcome with heat exhaustion while we stood there and many of us were wishing they would hurry up and open the doors.
See all the TV cameras? My feet were so hot and I really wanted to take off my shoes, but I happened to be in the front row…so I didn’t. Last thing I needed was to be on national TV with my socks showing.
Some mares and foals at one of the places we went. No shade, no obvious food and no poop. Very different than what we do.
We were then served another lovely meal and taken back to the hotel. One evening (not sure which one now) we went to the Russian Bazaar along with several other attendees. We ended up going twice and it was a feast for the senses – lovely smells and beautiful displays. I got to do a little bit of haggling, so I felt I’d had the whole ‘experience’.
Sunday was Race Day. We got up at 3:30 am again to make the 5 am bus and were in our seats at the race course by 7 am. We did get watch the sunrise.
Some of us did get to see the ground breaking ceremony (got us out of our seats!) and passed some very decorated camels that made the rather long walk very worthwhile.
When we got back to our seats, they started serving wine and cognac, which went just fine on empty stomachs. Pretty soon people were helping themselves to the food and drink in the VIP section ahead of us. Soon, we had trick riders, drill teams, beauty contests and the President riding in an exhibition race.
Libations in the stands. No food (except for what we brought in our purses), but wine, cognac and vodka. This is Naomi and Michelle.
There were drill riders on the track to keep us entertained. I think (from what my next seat neighbor told me), there were riders from Turkmenistan, Turkey and ?. Of course, I’m not sure he knew what he was talking about, but it made for an interesting backdrop to the races.
There were 7 races and the horses looked to be in good flesh and reasonably well trained. There were a few close finishes and then the top three jockeys in each race got presented cars.
One of the horses in the ‘Beauty Contest’ that was going on before the races. They all came out several times in jewelry, traditional dress and then just bare.
Fancy dress at the races. Most of us weren’t quite this fancy, but her hat was very fun.
We saw this little girl several times. She was part of the dancing with the trick riders (I’d assume she is a trick rider’s child) and she was so cute that I had to take some photos of her. The women danced while the men did their trick riding around them. I’m sure there was significance to the dancing, but we didn’t have a clue, except to know that it was very lovely.
I didn’t take many photos of the actual races, as I thought other stuff was way more interesting.
Anyway, after lunch, back to the hotel.
We did a few things, but the whole trip sort of flowed together. Monday we made another trip to the Russian Bazaar and then went on a long bus ride with some of the jockeys from the races and a TV crew. We were promised that we could see the President’s horses, but instead got to see several statues (up close) in front of the TV cameras.
We were promised horses on this bus ride…just not that they were golden statues!
By the time we got to the stables, they had been closed for ½ hour! So, we found a bathroom, walked on the fancy track surface (very nice) and talked and talked with our new friends. We made it back to the hotel, got to eat one more time and then headed for the airport and home. All in all, it was a marvelous week. Many of the attendees are heading to the Chinese Celebration of the Horse, starring Jackie Chan, the 12th through the 14th of May. Several of our members are planning on going, so perhaps the next newsletter will have a report on that!
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Yes, I’m back. It was a whirlwind week of firsts – first international travel (which I could easily get used to – wine! food! free movies! more legroom!), first trip to Turkmenistan, first in person meeting with many internet friends, first Russian bazaar…you get the drift.
I won’t write up the entire trip right now, as I’m still playing catch up with all the stuff piled on my desk and barn work. My family (mainly Callie and Zach) did a great job in my absence, but there is still plenty for me to do.
I took many photos, and will get to those sooner or later.
What I came away from the week with:
1. The Turkmen people seem to be extremely nice and VERY patient.
2. Bring your own toilet paper.
3. Wear comfortable shoes.
4. Their horse management is way behind ours, but they are working on it.
5. Being on a paid for trip is lots of fun, mostly. They do expect some photo ops though. (I was on their national TV at least once and probably more). But, I looked good, so it was just fine.
6. Bargaining in the bazaar was lots of fun.
7. They drive like maniacs. I had to sit in the back of the bus after making the mistake of sitting in the front seat, only once. I almost mashed my foot through the floor helping the driver brake. I also assume that my gasps weren’t doing any good as nothing changed.
There was plenty more, that I will write about soon. Now I need to get back to my other duties!